Puerto Rico: Iberoamericana Editorial Vervuert. 2021. 222 pages.
La hermosa carne: El cuerpo en la poesía puertorriqueña actual is one of the best books that has been written about the body in our poetry. Winner of an Honorable Mention from the Puerto Rican PEN International Center in 2021, the book is the result of research by poet, essayist, and professor Juan Pablo Rivera (alum of the prestigious Yale and Harvard universities), and complements his own poetic oeuvre (La fuga de cerebros, 2015 and En invierno la batalla, 2021) as well as the anthology he co-edited with Nadia V. Celis, Mayra Santos Febres y el Caribe contemporáneo (2011). This impeccable monograph by a scholar of our literature is published as part of the “Nexos y diferencias” collection of Editorial Iberoamericana Vervuert in Madrid. The book contains seven chapters and a conclusion in which the following key poetry collections are studied: Huracanada (2018) by Mayra Santos Febres; the bilingual poetry selection by Ana María Fuster Lavín, Mara Pastor, and Cezanne Cardona, published in the magazine The Common (2018); Ares (2014) by Carlos Vázquez Cruz; Últimos poemas de la rosa (2013) by Lilliana Ramos Collado; Mardi Gras (2012), Sísifo (2017), and El ala psiquiátrica (unpublished) by Julio César Pol; La casa que soy (2016) by Jeannette Becerra; La casa del vacío (2018) by Mayda Colón; and Necropolis (2014) by Eduardo Lalo. This corpus encompasses a wide range of poets of the seventies, eighties, and nineties, from the magazine Sótano, as well as more recent generations from the beginning of the twenty-first century.
In a work that takes from cultural studies, comparative literature (both Latin American and North American), and literary theory, Rivera presents a sharp analysis of how that “beautiful meat” is revealed on various fronts through the body in its full potential, from the feminine and disasters, queer strategies, and “the excesses of the fat body” to the vigilance of a guardian poet who watches over a poetry in the ruins of the notion of homeland left to us at the beginning of the new century. He shows all this through two sections in this volume, designated as demarcations and spectrality. One of the virtues of this study is its contextualization within the continuum of Puerto Rican literature, dialoguing with and signaling interesting points from other pertinent studies, such as Literatura y paternalismo en Puerto Rico by Juan Gelpí; Ciudadano insano: Ensayos bestiales sobre cultura y literatura by Juan Duchesne Winter; Hilo de Aracne: Literatura puertorriqueña hoy by Áurea María Sotomayor; and Los prosaicos dioses de hoy: Poetas puertorriqueños de lo que va de siglo by Melanie Pérez Ortiz, among others.
“THE BOOK ADVANCES FROM THE FEMININE BODY AND THE QUEER BODY TO MOVE TOWARDS THE APPARENT HYPERBOLE OF THE ‘FAT BODY’ THAT AFFIRMS ITS OWN BEAUTY AND HEALTH, BEYOND INHERITED MODELS OF BEAUTY”
Juan Pablo Rivera employs a contemporary criticism with an inclusive language, which he explains at the end of the book in the section “Poetas puertorriqueñxs: Nota de estilo.” In this section he addresses the necessity of writing with the standard masculine noun, but destabilizing that standard through the use of the suffixes “-e” and “-x,” recognizing that “there is a multitude of people, including some Puerto Rican poets, who don’t let themselves be ruled by sexist language standards.” The author does exactly that throughout the content of the book, as the sample analyzed carries out precisely this function in the development of our modern poetry. The book departs from inherited models to blow them up and to question, reproach, and remember that there is great diversity beyond heteronormativity. Each of the poets presented in La hermosa carne… proposes to subvert those inherited models in order to recontextualize them from a wider and more inclusive perspective than that held by previous generations. Rivera, in his comments, elucidates the mechanisms through which these creators approach language to present their ideas.
The book advances from the feminine body and the queer body to move towards the apparent hyperbole of the “fat body” which affirms its beauty and health beyond inherited models of beauty, and from there continues towards dismantling the house as an essential metaphor of our literature, which has been challenged both privately and publicly, until arriving at a dead city in which the poetic voice rises up with a Foucaultian panopticon gaze to dispense with those spaces and reinstate them within language. Each of the authors analyzed is strung together in an Ariadne’s thread of attempts to present a “beautiful meat” that goes beyond traditional ideas about the body: women as mothers, the genders defined as male and female, thinness as the aesthetic ideal, and the Homeland, with a capital H, as praised by rigid ideologies that blindly distance themselves from the political reality of the island of Puerto Rico.
Any reader of these 222 pages of reflection on our modern poetry will come out illuminated and moved by the proposals that Juan Pablo Rivera so clearly expounds, without making concessions to good taste or to the bourgeois paradigm to which many island institutions still cling.